EWC graduates bet on themselves

The 74th EWC Graduating Commencement Students await the receiving of their degrees.

TORRINGTON – As the heavy rain proceeded to fall heavily over Torrington Friday morning, the atmosphere of dozens of graduates at the Eastern Wyoming College (EWC) graduation ceremony was not deterred.

As hundreds of friends of family of graduating students waited patiently in the EWC auditorium at 10 o’clock Friday morning, several dozen students to receive their degrees marched humbly down the stairs and onto the stage.

As the students quietly waited on stage to receive their well-earned recognition, numerous speakers approached the microphone to acknowledge all the hard work, and commitment that the students have shown over the course of nearly the last two years.

Roughly over 150 EWC students total were to receive their associate degrees for their chosen fields of study, however a healthy handful sat in person at the commencement.

As it is well known, earning a college degree, no matter the situation or school is a challenging task filled with mental, emotional, and financial strain. One such speaker of the ceremony approached the microphone to acknowledge truly the sacrifice and dedication, all the students sitting before him had just made. As would be presented, no one knew better about sacrifice and hardship than this individual.

Ryan Millar started his plans and dream of playing volleyball for the U.S. Olympic team in 1997, where he would go on to compete in four total international Olympic Games. It would be in 2008 where he was able to participate in helping Team U.S.A. win their first Volleyball Gold Medal in 20 years in Beijing, China. Also, to his repertoire, he has competed in four World Cups, two World Championships, five World League Finals, and four Olympic Qualification Tournaments before retiring from the sport in 2012.

“I have no idea who spoke at my commencement,” joked Millar. “At least in my case it was forgettable.” The audience laughed.

“I wanted to leave you today with something you could remember and would hopefully influence you for the rest of your lives. I would like to extend to you something powerful, clean and simple. That message is bet on yourself.”

Millar proceeded to recall the long, and sometimes heartbreaking journey that led him to Olympic Gold.

“I lost my older brother in an automobile accident when he was 18. Tragedy did a number on our family. A few years later my parents got divorced, and dad was not interested in me living with me at that time. At the age of fifteen I was left on my own to figure life out and find a place to live, while finishing my junior year of high school. I tried staying at the homes of friends, many of which were turned down due to parents not wanting to get in the middle of a nasty divorce. Sitting on a bed that wasn’t mine, in an attic that wasn’t mine, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to bet on myself and get myself out of this horrible situation.’ I got to work.”

Millar took it upon himself to dedicate all his time and effort into his education, and constantly built on being able to become the best athlete he could possibly be.

His all the while his eye-contact was on the EWC graduates.

“Maybe you won’t be Olympic athletes, but you do have passion and goals, so bet on yourself. Betting on yourself will help inspire others to do the same. Ideas take action, and actions takes confidence. Dream as I did in that attic, but eventually you will have to stop dreaming and start doing.”

Millar also recalled witnessing another legendary Olympic athlete overcome a huge problem right in front of his very eyes.

“Michael Phelps was about to win his 28 gold medals. As soon as he hit the water [in the final race] he knew something was wrong. His goggles had malfunctioned and were filling with water. By the time he was halfway through the race he was completely blind and lost in the pool.”

Millar went on to remind the graduates, and the audience the extreme importance of self-belief and a cool head in the face of failure.

“I was fortunate to hear him talk about this in person. What struck me is how confident he was in still winning the race, despite the fact of the challenge that came. He said, ‘I’ve swam this race thousands of times. I know where I am, and how many strokes it takes me.’ He bet on himself and knew what only he could know. That he could do it. As you can imagine he finished the race blind, he broke his own world record while doing it, in an amazing demonstration of him betting on himself, and reciting his own destiny. He did go on and win the record 28 gold medals in the Olympic games.”

Afterwards, Marilyn Cotant was given the Albert C. Conger Distinguished Service Award.

After earning several degrees from different institutions, including EWC, over an extended period of time, Cotant playfully joked with the graduates.

“I always said I would just go on the decade plan,” kidded Cotant.

She then encouraged them that no matter how old we get, we can never fully stop learning. She also reminded them of the importance of what they just accomplished in their lives.

“It is so important to receive a certificate or an associate degree. The last grad class I took was at the University of Wyoming at the age of 67, while most of the students and instructors were 28 years old or so. Be a none stop learner. I would be remised if I did not bring attention to the many great people that taught me so much while working for EWC for so long. You students all have my very best wishes for the future.”

Just before receiving her Associate of Science, EWC Student Senate President Michaela Keller had just a few final words of encouragement for her peers.

“Keep the importance of faith and prayer in your back pocket. Life is too short to do otherwise. Just remember don’t let yourself be bothered by the inconsequential. God bless.”

Mr. Bob Baumgartner, Board of Trustees Chairman, then proceeded to present all the graduates with their degrees and certificates.

The ceremony concluded shortly before 11:30 a.m.

For more information about Commencement at EWC, please call 307.532.8220.

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